Fostering Connection to Build a Strong Team 

When I talk with tourism and hospitality leaders across the country, I hear a lot of feedback about the new way that we work. Some work 100% in the office every day every week, others work in a hybrid model with a set number of days in the office and a set number remote and others, like my own company, are 100% remote. Regardless of how you work, connection is imperative to create a productive and efficient workplace.

According to Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Advantage, the biggest opportunity for competitive advantage is not about strategy, finance, or marketing. It’s about how we manage our organizations. It’s about context, integration, and practicality. When you focus on creating a healthy workplace, connection to each other, connection to the mission of the company, and connection to the customers will grow stronger. Stronger connection leads to stronger profits.  

Our company spends a lot of time being intentional with how we manage our organization. Below are four ways that we foster connections in order to help our company grow.  

1. Company Culture 

Clearly defined purpose

A clearly defined mission or purpose gives our entire company something to rally around. It defines why our business exists, it is intentional, shared with everyone in the organization, and focused on what drives us.

Our purpose statement is: We believe that tourism makes or breaks entire regions and is critical to economic development. Our purpose is to support economic growth within the communities we serve.  

Vision for the future

If we don’t know where we are going, then we will not know which path to follow. By creating a vision that describes where we are going and what it will look like when we get there, our team has a clear path and it is easier to make decisions, helps avoid shiny object syndrome and prepares us for unforeseen challenges that may arise.

Part of our 5-year vision statement includes: We are a leader in the tourism industry and serve our community of primarily small to mid-size destinations and tourism and hospitality businesses. Our clients, members, and industry turn to us first because we bring a competitive advantage for business growth solutions. They rely on us for our thought leadership, industry education, and strategic growth services. We are a people-first company centered in services-based teams, grounded in our core values and supporting work-life balance.  

Clearly defined core values

Values define and guide how you do business. They shape the culture of our organization, identify what is important and drive behaviors. Core values guide decision making and ensure everyone on the team is aligned.

Our core values: Growth-minded, Equitable, Transparent, Collaborative, Light-hearted, Innovative, and Passionate.  

Repetition

Our purpose, vision and values are repeated throughout the year daily, weekly, and quarterly. They are worked into our regular meeting cadence and reinforced in everything that we do. Repetition is the key to clarity and understanding.  

2. Meetings With Purpose 

Status meetings

Staying connected relies on committing to a regular meeting cadence that includes regular check-ins and updates. Our company status meetings are every Monday at 11am EST. We are a remote team, and these are held on video conference call with everyone’s video on. We used to do these in-person as a stand-up meeting when we had an office. To keep these meetings productive and efficient, we follow the same format each week. The agenda follows this rhythm: One person runs the meeting. The meeting lead calls on one person at a time to do a status update. The status update answers three questions: 1. Top three priorities for the upcoming week 2. Any concerns about the work or the week ahead 3. Do you have capacity? (answer: yes, no or it is stable).

After each team member provides a status update, we go around a second time to answer “what’s new?” Since we are a remote team, this agenda item fulfills some of the small talk that would happen if we were in an office together. This takes up most of the meeting but it leads to a stronger and more connected team. The meeting ends with a reading of the nICE jobs submitted over the previous week. More about that later. 

1 on 1 meetings

These meetings are held between a team member and their direct supervisor. They are 30-minute meetings where the employee comes to the meeting with a prepared agenda following a consistent format. In these meetings the employee checks in on their quarterly growth goal, shares client updates or headlines, identifies areas they may need help with and shares an example of a core value they had exhibited recently. You can get a copy of our 1 on 1 form here.  

Weekly leadership team meetings

In order to build a strong company, the leadership team needs to be highly functioning and aligned. The purpose of the weekly leadership meeting is to focus ON the business instead of being buried IN the business. Our company dedicates 90 minutes to these meetings each week. We follow the same agenda format which enables us to help guide the company to meeting its goals. The Leadership Agenda includes: 

  • Segue: to open the meeting and focus everyone on the work ahead, each leader shares a brief segue. This can be personal or professional news, updates or something funny.  
  • Scorecard: Each week we review progress of KPI’s (Key performance indicators) that we are tracking. For our company these numbers include, sales pipeline, new business wins, revenue, billable and non-billable hours.  
  • Headlines: this is the part of the agenda where anyone can share a headline about a client, partner, team member or something else that would be important for everyone to know.  
  • Key priorities: we look at the quarterly goals and each responsible team member shares whether or not the goal is on track or off track.  
  • To Dos: During the meetings we sometimes end up with a to do assigned to someone to complete within two weeks. At this point in the agenda, we report on the completed To Dos, and it keeps everyone accountable for following through.  
  • Issues: In this part of the agenda we spend the most time, ideally 30-60 minutes. We keep a running list of issues to process and solve. In each meeting we chose 1-3 issues to resolve, and we focus our time as a team identifying them, discussing and solving.  
  • Rate the meeting: we end the meeting with each person rating the meeting on a scale of 1-10. We strive for 8 or better on our ratings to know that we are running efficient and productive meetings.  

Note: If you have read the book Traction or use the EOS system, you may recognize this agenda as a Level 10 meeting.  

3. Connection Through Coaching and Mentoring 

Weekly office hours/huddles

Our department leaders hold open office hours throughout each week. These are specified times they reserve on their calendars when they open a video conference window and are available to answer questions, work through challenges or bounce ideas around. The office hours are announced through our internal team chat channel and anyone can drop in. This format helps lessen the number of interruptions that our department heads were getting daily as they fielded questions from the team.  

Outside coaching for leadership team

We engage with a business coach and peer to peer networks for our leadership team to continually sharpen their skills. The learning and processing that takes place in these formats are incredibly valuable and we have gotten back multiple times our investments in added productivity, efficiency, and profit.  

Growth charts

We are a small company and even in companies our size, the team wants to know how they can improve and move up in the organization. We established growth charts for every level in the company from Associate Consultant (our entry level) through Senior Consultant, Director, Vice President and CEO. At a glance our team can see what competencies, professional skills, technical skills and relationship skills they need to master in order to move to the next level. This also provides supervisors and leaders the tools needed to mentor and coach their direct reports and to help identify growth goals.  

Lunch & Learns

We hold these on the fourth Wednesday of the month at 12pm EST over video conference. Each month we pick a different topic to dig into. Topics range from company process review to information sharing on a recent conference someone attended to guest speakers speaking on a specific topic. Having these held on the calendar gives us a standing time to use for company wide learning and the leadership team plans and schedules the topics. These have been invaluable to keeping our team trained and connected to what the company is working on. 

Mid-week check-ins

We hold these once a month on the second Wednesday at 4pm EST over video conference. We started having these as an added way to build connection between our remote team members. They have evolved into a productive meeting time where we review with the entire company our KPI’s, where we stand for the month, quarter and year against our goals. It also gives the team a chance to ask questions or share updates on progress they are making towards their goals.  

4. Celebrations 

Monthly wine time

Prior to the pandemic when we had an in-person office, we used to break for the weekend around 4pm EST on Fridays to enjoy a glass of wine and talk about our plans for the weekend. These were important team bonding times that deepened our connection. As a remote team, we decided to continue this tradition but have adapted it to the new way that we work. Our wellness committee plans these virtual gatherings that now happen once a month and have a theme to help guide the discussion and add an element of fun. Some of the recent themes were: Wear your favorite color, favorite thing to do in your current role, what superpower would you have, and most interesting or least favorite job. The discussion topics help us learn more about each other and create stronger connections. 

Company retreats

We have always done strategy retreats where we left the office for a full day off-site to discuss our plan for the upcoming year. Since becoming remote and adding team members from all over North America, in-person retreats have become even more important. Our most recent retreat included three nights in Niagara On the Lake where we spent meals together, had a full day of strategy planning and a full day of team bonding. The time spent with each other was energizing and strengthened our connections to make us an even more highly functioning team. 

Donut app for Slack

We use slack for our internal team chats and within Slack we have a celebrations channel. In this channel we announce work anniversaries and birthdays for each team member. The donut app automates this for us and helps us to celebrate our team. It also can ask fun questions to start conversations and further deepen connections. The app also works for Microsoft Teams. You can learn more about it here.  

Wellness channel & committee

Our team is dedicated to wellness, especially when you work from home we want to make sure everyone is finding the right balance and taking brain breaks and care of themselves throughout the day. We have a volunteer committee that brainstorms ideas for the team to do, they also maintain a wellness channel in Slack where they post tips and articles of interest. This committee is also in charge of our monthly wine time planning. 

Birthday flowers

We celebrate each team members birthday with flowers sent to their home. This is a great way to foster connection, to let everyone know that they are important and to celebrate the whole person. 

Nice Jobs online forms & wheel of names

To help reinforce our core values, we have a peer to peer Nice Jobs program where anyone can give someone else recognition for exhibiting one or more of our core values. Nice Jobs are submitted through an online form. Slack automatically reminds us on Fridays to submit Nice Jobs and we read the submissions aloud at our Monday status meetings.

We give away two prizes each month, one to a nominator and one to a nominee. The names of all the people receiving Nice Jobs get entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card and the names of all the people filling out the Nice Jobs also get entered into a drawing. The more you nominate or are nominated the more times you are entered to win. We use a free online tool to randomly draw the names each month and this is done live at the end of our status meeting on the first Monday of the month. To learn more about the wheel of names you can check it out here.  

Milestone celebrations can also turn into a great tourism marketing opportunity!

Fostering connection leads to stronger teams and stronger teams are more productive and efficient. These four areas of focus for creating connection may seem like they take a lot of time, this is what works for our company and the time investment has resulted in significant growth. How can you create meaningful connections with your team?  

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Author

Nicole Mahoney

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